Wednesday, November 20, 2013

UZS-2017 (A Zombie Short Screenplay), Part 2

Back in October last year I wrote about the creation of a zombie short film script in response to the flak I was copping for voicing my ambivalenc-- okay, I hate the damn things.

Subsequently a director came on board and we had two or three meetings and a second draft was written based on his notes. To be honest though we were working at cross purposes with different intentions for the story. He wanted a more traditional "fan pleasing" zombie film whereas I, well, did I mention? I hate the damn things.

The last meeting we had I was in the middle of intensive rewrites for Turbulence with Script Lab looming. So in fairness to the director my head was in a different place and I was struggling to understand his comments on the second draft. I left that meeting suggesting he take a pass at the script. In hindsight a mistake and something I normally never do but I simply didn't have enough RAM in my head to process (or understand) what he wanted at that time. I suspect, however, all the extra brain cells in the world wouldn't have mattered as he was nudging it down a path I wasn't really interested in.

A new draft never materialised from the director (nor myself) so it sat in the back of my brain and in a folder on my computer.

Until, impulsively, I submitted it for a one day workshop via the Film and Television Institute. What the hell, right? It's sitting there and I actually like it a lot. It also attracted interest from that award winning director and another had enquired about it so I figured it must have had some sort of legs.

I wrote the application in about 45 minutes flat. I'd finished the pilot script for the web series and was in a writing mood. I let it come tumbling out. Didn't self-censor or edit. Kind of a devil-may-care attitude because what did I have to lose?

I started it this way...

Let me say this up front. I hate zombie films. I don’t understand why everyone under a certain age wants to make ‘em. I expressed this at a screening at the FTI last year to discover people over a certain age want to make them as well. One, a talented cinematographer, turned a picture of me into a zombie! I was mocked mercilessly. So I thought, damn it, I’ll write a damn zombie film.

Except, shhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone, it isn’t really. What interests me is exploring a character undergoing a transformation that they can’t control. I’ve also inverted the usual genre tropes – the zombie locks himself away from the humans; it is told from the zombie’s POV (even though Warm Bodies was subsequently released but that takes a more satirical/comedy approach); and it eschews fan expectations of overt blood and gore.

It is also a commentary about the alienating effect of technology and it is no coincidence that smart phone technology is chosen as the carrier of the infection.

... and continued in that style. Conversational, self-deprecating and free of any earnest submission style trimmings.

And it worked. The project was accepted so I have a full day workshop in Fremantle next month with Claire Dobbin. From the FTI website:

"Claire has run script workshops all over the world and has consulted/edited on Australian films including Candy, (Berlin 2006), Mallboy (Cannes 2000) Road to Nhill, (Best Film Thessaloniki Film Festival) Small Treasures (Baby Lion Venice) Rabbit Proof Fence (AFI Award winner) Japanese Story(Cannes 2003 and AFI Award winner), Blame (Toronto 2010) and Hermano (Venezuela’s entrant in the Academy awards 2010).

Oh, I should mention - I submitted the FIRST draft. The one written in two days after the initial premise struck. So going back to the basic idea and see what comes of being immersed in a creative environment with Claire and 11 other short filmmakers/writers for a day. It should be fun. 

ps did I mention? Zombies... hate the damn things! ;-)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Enter Stage Left, Singing - A Personal Musical Theatre Journey

Yesterday I travelled down to Mandurah for a production of The Phantom of the Opera. This is the fourth time I have seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best known work, the previous three being in Sydney where my slow journey to musical theatre appreciation began. Indeed, it is the first musical I ever recall going to, circa 1995-6.

"I had moved to… 

Dissolve to flashback, probably in black and white with period costume and a lamentably scratchy soundtrack to denote a simpler, more analogue time.  

… Sydney in 1994 for work and my parents had proudly announced they were taking me to Phantom of the Opera when they were next coming to visit." 

Parents (proudly): We’re taking you to see Phantom of the Opera!

Me: Am I being punished for something?

Parents (enthusiastically) (yes, they always talked in wrylies back then): You’ll love it. It’s GREAT!

Me (thinking to myself): I wonder if I can fake my own disappearance before they arrive…?  

It’s true, they didn’t literally drag me to the Royal Theatre; they actually physically deposited me in the third row because I thought going to a musical was tantamount to sticking my head in a vat of boiling fat. 

Then something strange happened. 

Cue something-strange-happening music and the introduction of fake smoke for effect. 

I kind of liked it!

Dad still tells the story - yes, even last night when I followed the coast back up to the family home for dinner - that in the early going when the chandelier plummets to the stage I jumped three feet in the air.  

I had no idea what to expect so the spectacle and showmanship of it all had this tyro enthralled. I enjoyed the songs even though I’m not a fan of Act 2 with its reworked melodies and lyrics from the first half.    

I ended up taking my sister along when she visited from Canberra; then later my partner at the time which started a tradition. For her birthday we would go out to dinner, see a show, then have supper on my balcony, my apartment being in the heart of the city. I think, maybe, possibly, one of the other shows was Crazy For You and I can’t recall the third. I also saw Les Miserables on a return visit by my parents. 

I returned to Perth in 1998 and musical theatre largely became an afterthought.  

There were sporadic outings: 

We Will Rock You when I was in Melbourne for work in 2003.

Bare - A Pop Opera by Playlovers around 2008.

Spamalot, again in Melbourne for work maybe 2008/9.

Porgy and Bess at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth.

Cabaret on a return visit to Sydney.

Avenue Q at the Regal Theatre, Subiaco.

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds at Burswood Dome.

Christmas with the Andrews Sisters in 2011.

Checkout the Musical as part of 2012’s Fringe Festival. 

We Will Rock You was horribly written by Ben Elton but had all those classic Queen numbers so nobody seemed to mind the abysmal storyline as we sung along raucously. 

Bare featured a ‘wow moment’ when one of my favourite local performers, Rhoda Lopez, launched into “911! Emergency!” and blew the walls off the joint. It also featured Gemma Sharpe who would later read for me at Script Lab, and, unbeknownst to me until recently, Cassandra Kotchie, who made my coffee at a local writing haunt for ages before confessing she was a WAAPA musical theatre grad (Cass!).  

I adored Spamalot and have never laughed so hard especially at the audacity of "You Won’t Succeed on Broadway".  

Avenue Q gained greater significance when someone texted me the first two lines of "There’s A Fine, Fine Line" and I rediscovered how good the songs really are, especially that gem of a number. 

These were still largely one off events. You’re in a different city for work so you blow off time by going to a show. Or you get free tickets as was the case with War of the Worlds and Avenue Q 

Things began to change while I was doing the PAC Screen Workshops from 2005-2007 and my circle of friends and acquaintances expanded to include far more actors. I’ve written before about my joy of supporting talented friends in their acting endeavours in stage (and film). However, I was attending significantly more plays than musical theatre but that ratio has slowly shifted in the last couple of years. 

2012, however, was the major turning point when I saw three shows that featured a then friend and really enjoyed each one. She is a talented performer and it opened my eyes to a vibrant independent musical theatre scene. For as little as $20 you could see a fabulous show with real talent and commitment. While we’re no longer friends that revelation she was the catalyst for has propelled me into 2013 where yesterday’s show was the ninth musical I’ve seen this year. The other eight are:

The Wizard of Oz, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Curtains, The Producers, Nevermore, Madame Piaf, Cats, and A Pirate’s Life For Me.  
I guess I should pause to talk a little about the local incarnation of Phantom. Paul Spencer was fantastic as the eponymous villain and was well supported by Kristie Gray, Cassie Skinner and Jake Garner as Carlotta, Christine Daae and Raoul respectively. The sets were good and apart from a few technical hiccups with microphones (thankfully, minor characters in minor moments) it was well presented. The problem, however, to my ears, was the orchestra which was all over the place. So while the singing was good with Spencer the standout, they were constantly battling the music which was muddled and didn’t do the piece justice.   

Having said that the theatre was full and there was an enthusiastic standing ovation so it has no doubt done well. Though again, only a 4 show run, the same as Hairspray by the same company last year which I enjoyed far more.   

Jack the Ripper: The Musical; Koorliny Arts Centre, 2012
I had rather impulsively booked a ticket and it has brought me full circle from being horrified to see a musical back in the mid-90s to now savouring these local productions with such talented people on stage and all the crew and technicians who make them a reality.  

To my musical theatre friends I say this - I finally have joined the party as an enthusiastic and consistent audience member! Just promise me you’ll never, ever ask me to sing!  

What other shows should I see? What are your recommendations? Chicago is one of my all-time favourite movies and I’d love to see Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart onstage but hit me up with some other productions I should look out for!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The FUNdamentals of Screenwriting – Setting

I have a confession to make. I’m a fussy and ill-disciplined writer. Those people who write every day between x and y hours; nup, can’t do that. When I’m on, I’m on. When I’m off, I’m about as useful as Tony Abbott in a musical. One of the great joys of listening to Jeff Goldsmith’s podcasts is to discover I am not alone in having procrastination as a constant friend. 

But there’s also this. Where I write is just as important as when.  

And boy, am I fussy!  

Let’s rule out a few places. Namely, HOME. I have an awfully comfortable couch and a new bed and internet and a DVD collection and a television and the internet and iTunes and did I mention the internet and damn that couch is comfortable. The only time I write at home is up against a deadline and it’s 2am. Otherwise there are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many distractions. 

So generally I look for external locations to write. But there are places to avoid: 

The wrong vibe. Hard to explain this one but some places just don’t feel right. You know what I mean? Too clean, too antiseptic, too corporate, too… something. If I’m not comfortable then it ain’t going to happen. 

The State Library is a classic example. I am old enough to remember a time when “Shooooooooooooooosh” ruled the airwaves at libraries. Now, if you’re not in a study group of twenty people discussing, I dunno, Twilight or something at the top of your lungs, you’re just not trying hard enough. This is guaranteed to make me mad as hell and stomping out with muttered-under-breath disgust. Paradoxically, the café downstairs used to be a regular place to write on weekends as I expect people to talk there so it doesn’t bother me. Told you I was fussy. 

If you’re a writer and spend a lot of time in cafes and occasionally pubs, I gotta tell you, you overhear some great conversations but most of the time you hear the most banal, coma-inducing, dispiriting pap. When I’m in the zone I don’t hear anything. When I’m struggling to find that magical place, inane conversation bugs the hell out of me.  

Especially avoid middle-aged, lycra clad, latte drinking bicycling associations. 

They are Satan’s spawn.  

Same goes with music. Generally I don’t like music playing when I write. I especially don’t like it when bored staff members have it cranked up and you can’t hear yourself think. Those places I avoid like musicals with Tony Abbott in the lead role. 

What’s with all the negativity, Richard? 

Okay, okay… here are the places you will currently finding me writing at regularly: 

The courtyard at the Bookshop Caffe
This used to be my spiritual writing home when I wasn’t working fulltime. Within walking distance of home with a lovely courtyard… and books! The staff have always been good to me there even though I hadn’t been for a looooong time since returning to corporate enslavement.

Then I discovered that early afternoon after the lunch crowd leaves on a Sunday is the sweet spot. Otherwise you battle to find a seat on the weekends. 
Secret greenery everywhere.

The Secret Garden is my Sunday morning brunch and writing spot. It is within walking distance if I’m feeling suitably motivated and has a lovely, yep, you guessed it, garden setting out the back. Tends to get busy from mid-morning but is quite peaceful if you get there early enough.  

The main workhorse though is the big Dome in East Victoria Park next to the Balmoral (which I still have never set foot in). It’s spacious, has comfortable booths, decent free parking and also doubles as the prime meeting place for creative sessions. I will go there for a few hours after work and battle the mental tiredness on weekdays. Generally go there Saturday mornings using the above two for Sundays. 

Other places that get a run – Rifo’s in Maylands for meetings with people north and east of the river; occasionally The Windsor Hotel in South Perth; and very infrequently now, Clancy’s in Fremantle if I’m down there for other purposes.  

I write this on a Saturday morning at the Dome after a three hour writing session and it’s warm, the doors are all open, there’s a nice breeze, and jazz/classics are softly playing. It’s comfortable. Above all else that’s what I crave when I write.

Do you have a favourite spot? A favourite time of day to write? A lucky charm? Magic potions? Favourite song? Words of encouragement? Tips to avoid procrastina-- oh please, dear [insert deity of choice] let the words flow...